Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A quick plea for help

After spending the last few days churning out reams and reams of text on everything from the EU constitution to Samuel Pepys to Batman Begins (the latter two not here, obviously), I've hit a distinct lack of inspiration.

Come, faithful readers - assist me. I've got to knock up a 1000-1500 word article on the Celts in Britain - not Ireland - with an emphasis on places tourists can visit and which photograph well, and I've come entirely unstuck. It's become too in-depth for the middle-brow target audience and so far has precisely no travel aspect. Help me out, go on - I need suggestions of celtic sites and attractions more than anything. Ta. This is currently about 600 words - I need to cut some bits and add some bits to make it fit:

In the 5th century BC Heroditus recorded the Celts as living between the source of the river Istros (the Danube) and the Pillars of Hercules – effectively from Germany to Portugal. Their first recorded appearance was in c.400 BC, forcing the Etruscans out of the Po valley in northern Italy and clashing with envoys of Rome in the process. Marching on to the capital of the nascent Empire, the Celtic leader Brennus inflicted one of the worst defeats that Rome would see for centuries. A few decades later, in 335BC, Alexander the Great met a Celtic delegation on the shores of the Adriatic where, according to Ptolemy, they offered their friendship, stating that the only thing they were afraid of was the sky falling down around them.

According to 1st century BC Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus, the Celts were “terrifying... They are very tall in stature, with rippling muscles under clear white skin. Their hair is blond, but not naturally so: they bleach it, to this day, artificially, washing it in lime and combing it back from their foreheads. They look like wood-demons, their hair thick and shaggy like a horse's mane.” Another distinguishing feature, in a world where tunics were still the norm, was the habit of the men to wear bracae, or trousers.

Today, the descendants of the Celts survive predominantly in the British Isles – primarily in Cornwall, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales, though with strong remaining influences in the northern and western fringes of England, to where they were driven by successive invasions by the Romans and Anglo Saxons. But no one really knows how the Celts themselves came to Britain – were they the descendants of those who built Stonehenge, invaders or peaceful migrants? Some have even argued that they were merely an invention of 18th century Empire-builders, keen to create a sense of British national pride.

But the sense of mystery, the tales of warriors, the traces of complex and sinewy artworks and the ever-present legends of the Druids, not to mention the ongoing pride of the Celtic nations, has helped ensure that the Celtic peoples retain a very particular place in European, and especially British identity.

Despite their warrior origins, the Celtic tradition was, until the coming of Rome, entirely oral. As such, it was only after the Roman conquest that any written record of the Celts appeared in the British isles, and it is doubtless in part due to this that the Celtic tradition today is that of the plucky and oppressed underdog. Revolts in the 15th and 16th centuries to preserve the Cornish language have been followed in the 19th and 20th centuries by concerted efforts to revive Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, while Scottish and Irish immigrants to North America have continued to cling to their Celtic roots even while, like their forebears during the coming of Christianity, they have become integrated with their new culture.
Too tedious at the moment, isn't it? Damn. (Oh, and sorry - I wouldn't normally do this sort of thing; highly unprofessional etc.)

11 Comments:

Blogger Phil said...

Find a copy of The Modern Antiquarian. If that doesn't (successively, not alternatively) (a) blow your mind and revitalise your enthusiasm for the subject (b) make you think 'hang on, this is just a load of reheated Old Straight Track dodgy hippy bollocks' (c) blow your mind all over again, then... er... you won't have reacted the same way as me. Plus it's a brilliant guidebook/gazetteer.

5/18/2005 04:13:00 pm  
Anonymous Sharon said...

Places to visit?
Artefacts
http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/ (especially things like the Snettisham hoard)
http://digidol.llgc.org.uk/METS/XBC00001/ardd?locale=en
Places
http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/northwest/sites/celts/
http://www.castellhenllys.com/
http://www.celticawales.com/

Sorry I've got no inspiration beyond Wales at the moment...

5/18/2005 05:50:00 pm  
Anonymous Rowan said...

How about Butser Ancient Farm?

5/18/2005 07:38:00 pm  
Anonymous kathyf said...

Fascinating so far. But to help...my guidebook, which happens to be right here, says "the principal Celtic contributions to the landscape was a network of hillforts and other defensive works stretching over the entire country; the greatest of them at Maiden Castle in Dorset..."

Also, the best preserved of Iron Age villages is "Chysauster near Zennor in Cornwall, consisting of stone houses arranged in pairs, each with a courtyard and garden plot."

Sounds photogenic to me.

5/18/2005 09:56:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Ta all - any more suggestions greatly appreciated. The remit's so damn broad - as is the definition of precisely what is meant by "celtic" - I've just kept drawing blanks on this one. I mean, no one can even agree when the Celts first got to Britain, and there are no written records before the Romans, so it's well nigh impossible to tell which of the many thousands of places which claim a celtic connection are actually genuine.

5/18/2005 10:26:00 pm  
Anonymous ronnie in new orleans said...

Middlebrow?

Must be Americans huh?

When you want historical perspective offer some Stephen Schama DVD's from the History Channel. What would really interest these neandertals whose descendants left the sweet bosom of Europa many years ago?

Stick with music, cute costumes, and excellent (or in this case passably edible) food. Sort of the pop culture of the Kelts... works great over here.

Make the heavy historical stuff optional at bedtime.

Wouldn't be taking any money from members of the evil empire eh!

BTW: Moldy looking old places with lots of tapestries help too. Even if they're German.

5/18/2005 11:57:00 pm  
Anonymous ronnie in new orleans said...

Middlebrow?

Must be Americans huh?

When you want historical perspective offer some Stephen Schama DVD's from the History Channel. What would really interest these neandertals whose descendants left the sweet bosom of Europa many years ago?

Stick with music, cute costumes, and excellent (or in this case passably edible) food. Sort of the pop culture of the Kelts... works great over here.

Make the heavy historical stuff optional at bedtime.

Wouldn't be taking any money from members of the evil empire eh!

BTW: Moldy looking old places with lots of tapestries help too. Even if they're German.

5/19/2005 12:01:00 am  
Blogger sean said...

Yo. I've just done a tour of the Celtic fringes for the Sunday Times. Some curious, less-well-known and vivid places you could mention - Callanish in Lewis (the Scottish Stonehenge), Bardsey in Wales (isle of the Celtic saints), Madron Well in west Cornwall - a sacred spring still venerated today. Also mention the weird Gaelic church services in Harris and Lewis (I went to one) - they have unaccompanied psalm singing, it's like Middle Eastern ululation. Very old and very weird. And you could do worse than totally plagiarise Anthony Moffat's The Sea Kingdoms - a truly fine book about the Celtic fringes.
Oh, and lose the 'to' in 'to where they' - egregious.

5/19/2005 08:22:00 am  
Blogger chris said...

As you pointed out there is no written record of the celtic period. Some how about some of the things we don't know? Why are the Cornish stone circles supposed to be entered from the southeast? Why do all but one of the Cornish coastal forts have a small island just off the coast from them? Why did the Brettons prefer single (massive) standing stones and rows to the Britons circles? Mysteries are often interesting, so perhaps investigate the varrious hypotheses around these things.

5/19/2005 11:15:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Ta again, people. I think I might start it again from scratch - opt for the myths and legends, go for the lovey-dovey "as the mists gently drift in off the tranquil waters of the Western Isles..." style. And do it under one of my many pseudonyms to avoid the shame...

Ronnie - yes, it is indeed largely for Americans...

Sean - The Sea Kingdoms good then? I'm meant to be getting sent a review copy, but they're taking their sweet time - my deadline's Monday. I currently have no research material other than what I can scrape off the net (most of which seems to come from bizarre paganist sites), and no time to go travelling myself for the thing, which is bloody irritating.

5/19/2005 12:34:00 pm  
Anonymous Katie said...

Parkhead, 18 Kerrydale St, Glasgow, G40 3R.

But then I'm a filthy huguenot, wtf do I know?

5/19/2005 09:20:00 pm  

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